Tougher. More resilient. Smarter. A team that opponents did not enjoy facing. BMO Field was to become a fortress.
But turning around an MLS franchise synonymous with failure has proved to be like parallel parking a super-tanker. Movement is slow and painful.
Thirteen games into the season, the team has eight points from a 1-7-5 record, just three points ahead of last year at the same time (1-10-2, and remember, Toronto started 2012 with a league-record nine straight losses).
Toronto, which ended last season with a 14-game winless streak in league play, is currently mired in an 11-game winless stretch.
The last win at BMO Field came last July, although Toronto did defeat Sporting Kansas City at the Rogers Centre in March. Its last away win was also last July.
Toronto was the league doormat last year with a 5-21-8 record, resulting in the firing of first Aron Winter (after 10 games) and then Paul Mariner (in the off-season). This year, only D.C. United has a worse mark (1-9-2 heading into Sunday's game with the Chicago Fire).
Injuries to key players like star striker Danny Koevermans (who returned Saturday from a layoff of more than 10 months due to knee surgery) and fullback Richard Eckersley (hamstring, caused celebrating a teammate's goal 10 games ago) have not helped manager Ryan Nelsen's cause.
Some short-term acquisitions (Julio Cesar, John Bostock, Hogan Ephraim) have not worked out. Some wonder why Toronto — before Nelsen took over admittedly — made a big deal out of signing veteran defender Danny Califf only to seemingly ignore him.
Still, six of Toronto's seven losses have come by one goal, as Nelsen often reminds reporters. The team has not been blown out.
And Nelsen has proved a shrewd tactician, with some inspired substitutions, while showing himself to be a good judge of talent in identifying and promoting the likes of rookie midfielder Jonathan Osorio and newly installed holding midfielder Jeremy Hall.
Lack of scoring (12 goals in 13 games) has cost Toronto and magnified defensive miscues.
And Toronto has shot itself in the foot by leaking late goals, throwing away 11 points in seven games because of it. Worryingly, four of the goals came off corners and throw-ins.
It should be noted that Justin Braun and Darel Russell both scored in the final six minutes to secure a 2-2 tie with visiting FC Dallas on April 6, earning Toronto a point.
Entering Sunday in ninth spot in the Eastern Conference, Toronto was 11 points behind Philadelphia, which occupied the fifth and last playoff position. Had Toronto held on in those seven games, it would have been tied with the Union.
Here's a look at the games in question:
March 30: Jose Villarreal's 92nd-minute goal gives Los Angeles a 2-2 tie at BMO Field. Two points lost.
Osorio's first MLS goal in the 78th minute gave Toronto a 2-1 lead as the home side rallied from an early 1-0 deficit. But a poor clearance in stoppage-time led to a wonder scissors-kick goal by Villarreal.
April 13: Jack McInerney 94th-minute goal gives Philadelphia a 1-1 tie at PPL Park. Two points lost.
Toronto could not clear a long throw from defender Sheanon Williams. A scuffed shot landed at the feet of an unmarked McInerney, with the Toronto defence in disarray, and the Union striker made no mistake.
April 20: Warren Creavalle's 94th-minute goal gives the Houston Dynamo a 1-1 tie at BMO Field. Two points lost.
With Houston defender Jermaine Taylor having received a red card, Hall gave Toronto a 1-0 lead with a slick move to find room for a low shot in the 58th minute. But Creavalle's stoppage-time header off a teammate's flick from a corner earned the Dynamo the tie.
April 27: Tim Cahill's 89th-minute goal gives the New York Red Bulls a 2-1 win at BMO Field. One point lost.
One again, it looked like Osorio to the rescue with a goal that made it 1-1 in the 83rd minute. But Australian international Cahill restored the Red Bulls' lead, heading in his second goal of the game after a failed clearance. Ashtone Morgan was victimized on the winning goal.
May 4: Edson Buddle's 86th-minute goal gives Colorado Rapids a 1-0 win at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. One point lost.
Toronto gifted this goal as defenders Darren O'Dea and Logan Emory both fell on the play, leaving an unmolested Buddle to tap in a cross from the left flank.
May 8: Chris Wondolowski's 81st-minute goal gives San Jose Earthquakes a 2-1 win at Buck Shaw Stadium. One point lost.
Toronto went ahead through an early Justin Braun goal only to see Adam John tie it up in the 48th minute. Then Wondolowski sealed the deal off a corner, using his thigh to skillfully redirect a Walter Martinez flick-on from a corner.
June 1: Jack McInerney's 91st-minute goal gives Philadelphia Union a 1-1 tie at BMO Field. Two points lost.
Similar to the first game between the two. A long throw-in by Williams was headed away by Toronto's Hall but only as far as McInerney, whose low shot through traffic beat Joe Bendik as three defenders rushed at the shooter. One can only wonder how a defence could leave McInerney alone, given he entered the game tied for the lead in league scoring with nine goals.Suggest a correction